Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Feeling the blues, finding the joy

I know I’m not the only one but it still feels uncomfortable. I went to bed on Christmas night fighting all manner of demons. Did everyone get something they were excited about? Was there enough food? Was there enough joy and laughter? Our time together is very limited as a family and we had a new boyfriend in the mix. Did he enjoy his time with us? Was it all stimulating enough? Did we take them to cool places in town? Were we Covid-cautious enough for the New Yorkers? And the tree-oh, the tree was a whole thing! 

It’s hard to answer all these questions as you head off to sleep and truthfully you never know but here is what I do know: our bellies were full with good food, we laughed and played together and there was not one fight! People seemed happy with gifts they received and most importantly they seemed to enjoy the gift giving process as well. Even the son got on board with gift giving in real time. Last year he ordered everyone’s gifts Christmas Day and while that had its own thrill, this year he said it was important to see everyone’s faces as they opened gifts! There in is the gift worth opening-the spirit of simple giving.

I've worked to let my anxious feelings go over the last few days. It is what it is and I can see us laughing together especially over our online Jeopardy, the raucous sounds of lively foosball games rising from the basement, and the joy of sitting around the table together. One of my highlights was listening to Kaylee explain just how Christmas morning would go because we have a pattern, a flow to how our traditions unfold and that description was priceless. 

The new year is approaching and the children are once again scattered back to their homes but we will hold the Christmas of 2021 especially dear because we could be all together and we were happy for those days, sharing our memories and our lives. We say "cheers" for a healthy and hope-filled 2022. Find what makes you stay sane...

Friday, December 24, 2021

Amazing Days up ahead

Usually the holidays are a pretty low-key event at our house. We stay in our pajamas from Christmas Eve through Christmas night. I'm happy all three children will be home for those two days and I plan to enjoy every moment they are here.

Leading up to that though I have family coming to town. My brother and his family are here right now to see my mom before heading to Chicago. My brother's partner, Jen, is also my longtime friend and soul sister. Her family is in Chicago but she and Chris, her kids and his kid all live in Denver, CO. I'm thankful they made the long drive to be here. My brother Jason and his family will be here on the 23rd/24th and I'm hosting and cooking up a storm. 

Here are the recipes I'm making over the next few days for all of these events. I love to make and share food so I hope it all goes as planned and the food provides everyone with that home-for-the-holidays comfort but with a modern twist.

Last night I made this pasta and chickpea stew for the Colorado family as they pulled into town. It was delicious and so easy to make. I served it with fresh slices of bread. I made my favorite breakfast bread pudding from my The Cottage cookbook. Some day I'm going to make it to LaJolla to eat at this sweet place. Tonight I'm making my chicken enchiladas plus a pan of vegetarian sweet potato enchiladas for us non-meat eaters. I am so happy to make food for this family because I've not been around them for years. 

For the 23rd dinner party I'm preparing Wild Rice Soup, Pumpkin Soup, Butternut and Spinach Lasagna.  I've made this once already and I'm excited to try it again. 

Christmas Eve I'm going to have this Thai Vegan Soup with fresh bread and a big salad. In the morning we will have waffles and a savory sweet potato hash with protein crumbles. And in the evening Shepherd's Pie, Cauliflower Au Gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts, and steamed broccoli. We have so many treats around the house from friends and co-workers I don't need to worry about making any desserts. We are not going to starve!

May your holiday be filled with the magic of Christmas and the joy of togetherness without the rapid spread of germs!  

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Poetry of all kinds

I'm reading The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart to 4th grade students in the library. This is an amazing story about a young person with cancer and his quest to hike a mountain on his last days. The book is beautifully written and the author intersperses bits of haiku poetry throughout the story. Mark and his best friend Jesse have a shared love of the poetry form and communicate notes of haiku back and forth. As I was reading I thought what a great gift for students to hear or read poetry within the book. Kids do love poetry. I did a whole poetry experience last April and they really enjoyed it. It can be light-hearted or serious and is an easy way for students to experiment with word play. 

My stepmother sends poems in her birthday cards. Most often it is Mary Oliver but not always. I appreciate very much how her poetry is focused on the natural world because I can imagine myself taking a long walk with the author.  I don't have any Mary Oliver books but I can turn to the pages sent to me and read and reread when I want.  Diane, my stepmother, adds these poetry pieces in as a gift to the receiver and what she picks always makes me feel emotional just as Dan Gemeinhart's book does by weaving haiku into his story about Mark.  

Here is Wild Geese, one of my favorites I found on YouTube:

And here is another favorite When I'm Among the Trees:

Share some poetry with a friend, reading it can be a form of meditation and we all need more calm at this time of year.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Friendship and family

Friendship is a gift. Sometimes you meet people in your life that become family. So it was when I met my friend Jennifer in Colorado. We connected over drinks and had much to talk about. We shared stories especially about our mothers, their odd habits and antiquated ideas,  and we’ve remained friends for 30 years. We’ve had one major squabble and it took us awhile to come back to each other but we did because we still saw value in our connection. I think of her as one of my sisters. 

With friends and family there is a certain amount of grace you have to hold in your heart to move on and realize how important someone is in your life. I wished I could have remained in Denver so we could raise our children together.  I was called back to the Midwest for family matters and never found my way back to the mountains. Thankfully we both stayed in touch over the years through long phone calls. 

Sometimes family members become friends and that is an amazing bond. Even though I'm still the mama I see the relationship with my children take on a very different role that is both family and friendship. They don't want my help as much as a parent but more as a listener or occasional adviser. I've learned to let them come to me through phone calls and to take a step back. I want to have a lifelong relationship with them, where we are able to be there for each other. It takes work as all good partnerships do. Part of that is seeing them as fully capable adults knowing you had a small hand in that.  

We should try and treat all the people we care deeply about with a sense of family, bonded through mutual respect. Even if we don’t always agree with them. Be as kind as you can. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Lovely bread


I love how my kitchen smells when the dough is rising and baking. It’s a very earthy smell and one that takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. My brother and I were recently talking about how her home was such a respite when we were there because of how she made you feel. She pulled you in, made you laugh, and fed you delicious homemade food. This bread is my gift.

Simple Pot Bread

Makes 1 loaf suitable for 4-6 people
5-6 quart Dutch oven or other pot with lid

3 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
3/4 tsp regular yeast or 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt 
1 1/2 cups (warm) water

1. Make the dough in the morning, before you eat breakfast or go to work. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. The dough will be wet and slightly goopy. Spray the dough with nonstick cooking spray or drizzle olive oil over the top. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap (I drape it with a flour sack towel) and leave it in the warmest spot in your kitchen. Let it rise for at least 6 hours, although up to 12 will be fine. 

2. About 3 hours before dinner, lightly spray a work surface, such as a countertop, with spray. By now the dough will have expanded into a wet, dimpled mass. Dump the whole thing out onto the oiled surface. Push it roughly into the shape of a ball and cover again with your towel. Let it sit for 1-2 hours. If you have to skip this step it will be fine. 

3. When you're ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Put the Dutch oven into the oven to get hot as the oven heats up. ( I splash olive oil in so that heats up as well.)

4. Pour or roll the dough into the hot pot. You may have to pry it or peel it off the countertop. The dough will be very wet. Don't worry if it looks a mess as it's rolled into the pot. This is a rustic loaf! Cover the pot with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes to let brown. 

5. Remove the bread from the oven and immediately take it out of the pot and roll the bread right out. If you have the time let it sit for another 30 minutes before slicing so that it can set. This is plenty of time to put a casserole into the oven and make a salad, so by the time the bread has cooled and is ready to eat, you should be able to have a complete meal on the table. 

Slightly adapted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand. 

I've made a few changes after making this bread hundreds of times. I start the yeast with warm water and stir it up with a fork to build a little heat. That's a Jaime Oliver trick. I end up adding about 1/2 cup more flour as I shape the loaf; it's not as sticky then and it doesn't hurt the final outcome at all. I've also been able to speed up the rising process by leaving it in my oven on the proof setting.  I shape my dough on this Pampered Chef pastry mat which is an amazing tool for bread and pie dough and it is very easy to clean up. 

Enjoy this easy gift for friends and family or make it for yourself! I generally make two loaves at a time; one to keep and one to give away. That isn't my photo {see source} above because I suck at food photography but the bread does look a lot like that.